No matter how you measure it, Wave's MCSE kit isn't for lightweights

Looking for an all-around self-study kit you can use to earn your Win2K MCSE? If so, you'll want to check out this week's Paperchase Digest. Erik Eckel reviews Wave's MCSE Resource Kit.

If the value of MCSE training materials is measured in pounds, Wave Technologies International’s Windows 2000 MCSE Resource Kit is the winner, hands down. All told, the Wave/Thomson Learning line of MCSE books, lab simulation and interactive learning CD-ROMs, core study modules, practice tests, and associated notes tips the scales at 25 pounds.
Receive Paperchase Digest in your e-mail box each Friday and catch every column, along with timely tips and reviews not found on the site! It’s easy, and it’s free. Just go to the TechMails page and sign up for Erik Eckel’s Paperchase Digest to ensure that you keep up-to-date on the latest certification tips, shortcuts, news, and more!
Purchase the Windows 2000 MCSE Resource Kit, and you’ll find more than enough textbooks, simulations, and learning materials to occupy your weekends for months to come. Here are the components that constitute the entire Win2K MCSE resource kit:
  • A multimedia presentation aimed at helping you maximize your use of the training materials
  • Seven self-paced course manuals
  • Seven study guides that map skills specifically to Microsoft exam objectives
  • An interactive CD that contains video presentations, lab simulations that emulate common real-world problems, and sample test questions

The resource kit prepares you for the following exams:
  • Exam 70-210: Installing, Configuring and Administering Microsoft Windows 2000 Professional
  • Exam 70-215: Installing, Configuring and Administering Microsoft Windows 2000 Server
  • Exam 70-216: Implementing and Administering a Microsoft Windows 2000 Network Infrastructure
  • Exam 70-217: Implementing and Administering a Microsoft Windows 2000 Directory Services Infrastructure
  • Exam 70-219: Designing a Microsoft Windows 2000 Directory Services Infrastructure
  • Exam 70-220: Designing Security for a Windows 2000 Network
  • Exam 70-221: Designing a Windows 2000 Network Infrastructure

You can use the Windows 2000 MCSE Resource Kit to migrate your skills from the Windows NT 4.0 platform to Windows 2000 or to learn from scratch. Alternatively, you can purchase Wave Technologies’ Windows 2000 Core Upgrade Resource Kit. It prepares you for the following:
  • Exam 70-240: Microsoft Windows 2000 Accelerated Exam for MCPs Certified on Microsoft Windows NT 4.0
  • Exam 70-219: Designing a Microsoft Windows 2000 Directory Services Infrastructure

First impressions
My first impression of Wave’s Windows 2000 MCSE Resource Kit was that it’s heavy. My second impression was that it’s very well packaged. It’s obvious that much attention has been paid to preparing a thorough, self-paced training kit.

My hope, upon opening the kit’s many components, was that as much attention had been paid to the instructional content as had been paid to the packaging. I was not disappointed.

Out of the box
Each of the seven course texts covers practical Windows 2000 topics in considerable detail. You’ll also find a corresponding core study guide module for each course. These remind me of miniaturized Coriolis Exam Crams or glorified Cramsessions.

Wave includes the core study guides as review aids and suggests that experienced candidates use them to prepare for the respective exams. I recommend that students, regardless of capacity and experience, follow Wave’s suggestion that the core guides be used only as a supplement to the self-study manuals, video presentations, practice exams, and lab exercises. I don’t think you’d want to head into an exam with nothing but the nuggets of knowledge the core study guides provide.

The course texts are another matter. They’re so thorough and provide so many opportunities for hands-on practice, I doubt if you really need the core study guides. The guides really serve as a convenience to help you review exam topics prior to taking a test. But I’m glad they’re there.

Self study
It’s important to note that the Wave Windows 2000 MCSE Resource Kit is a self-study training aid. There is no instructor to ensure that you attend class. You must be able to motivate yourself to sit down and work with these training aids.

If you’re the procrastinating type, sign up for classes where an instructor will hound you if you don’t show up regularly and complete necessary labs. Of course, that can be expensive. A full slate of MCSE training courses runs upward of $8,000 to $10,000 now. Wave’s Windows 2000 MCSE Resource Kit runs only $1,995 (approximately the cost of one course), and the Windows 2000 Core Upgrade Resource Kit retails for $1,495.

A word on price
$1,995 is a lot of money. $8,000 to $10,000 is even more. How much should you spend? Ultimately, the answer depends upon how self-motivated you are and how much IT experience you already possess.

If you determine that you don’t require classroom instruction, the question is do you need to pay $1,995 for all these materials or can you get them cheaper by piecing together other components on the market? That question piqued my curiosity, so I added it up. I found the discrepancy is not that large. Assuming I purchased all the elements for the seven courses at the best bundled prices I could find, here are the numbers:
  • Microsoft Press self-paced training books—$536.96
  • Transcender exams—$817.00
  • Coriolis Exam Crams—$209.96

The total? It adds up to $1,563.92. The difference is around $430. Considering Wave/Thomson Learning has a good reputation for building solid training products, you could do far worse spending that $430 on other items. How much was that set of Dale Earnhardt-autographed plates you wanted, for example? Four or five hundred bucks isn’t much when chasing a Microsoft or Cisco certification. Buy those tools you have the most faith in.

The Wave study method
If you’ve taken only instructor-led training in the past, brace yourself: The self-study route can be a challenge. With self-paced training, you’ll have to rely upon coworkers and others to bounce your questions off of. However, you won’t have to spend time in class reviewing concepts that are clear to you but fuzzy to others. Instead, you can invest time where you need it and not get bogged down reviewing topics and procedures you’ve already committed to memory.

You can keep yourself on track by setting certification goals in advance. Work backward from the dates you want to sit for your exams and be sure to provide yourself with a realistic amount of preparation time in advance.

If you believe you possess the fortitude for self-study (which has become my favorite method of learning new technologies, including Linux), my recommendation is you simply set aside time each week when everyone knows you’re studying. Lock yourself in a room and get to work.

Understand one thing up front. Wave’s kit is for those students with the discipline to study regularly on their own and not fall victim to such distractions as friends that call up wanting to go out for a brew, prime-time television specials, or weekend outings that regularly tempt one away from planned self-studies.

Don’t plan long marathon study sessions, either. If you tell yourself you’ll just spend 10 hours every Saturday studying, I think you need to revisit your schedule. It’s much easier to fight distractions over four or five two-hour periods than it is over one day-long session. At least, relying on more frequent but shorter sessions works best for me.

Don’t take calls while studying. Don’t schedule meetings, trips, or events when you know you’ll be studying. Don’t invite others over when you’ve scheduled a study session.

Using the Wave Windows 2000 MCSE Resource Kit, your best bet is to first view the Getting Started multimedia program. It discusses the resource kit components and explains how they work together to build your Windows 2000 understanding. It also provides tips for studying.

You’ll want to have two computer systems that can be reconfigured. However, the hardware requirements for the two systems are far from overwhelming. Each need only be a P166 with 64 MB of RAM and a 2-GB hard drive. You’ll also need a CD-ROM, a monitor, and network adapters, as well as a hub or other connection device.

Completing the different lab exercises requires that you make hands-on changes that will alter different system settings sufficiently that you’ll want to use test machines and not production machines for your studying.

Note, too, that you’ll need to have copies of Windows NT Workstation 4.0 and Windows 2000 Professional and Windows 2000 Server. These software programs are not included with the kit.

Once you’ve gone through the Getting Started program and set up your machines, I recommend that you read the course text corresponding to the exam you intend to take next. Then, you should view the respective Digital Videos provided in the kit to reinforce the concepts you’ve learned or to help you understand a concept you couldn’t entirely grasp from the course text.

Next, you should complete all lab exercises, labeled NEXTSims by Wave—not just those that are convenient and familiar. After that, you’ll be ready to review the core study guides. Finally, you can complete your exam training by tackling the included simulation exams, branded Challenge! Interactive by Wave.

The verdict
At first, I viewed the kit’s lack of Windows 2000 Professional, Windows NT Workstation, and Windows 2000 Server evaluation copies as a significant—and unforgivable—oversight. Now I see it only as an annoying omission.

After spending more time with the kit, I decided Wave’s target audience is most likely the IT professional who already has some experience with the Windows NT platform.

Students who are just learning IT principles and practices and Windows 2000 technologies might want to consider taking classes at an authorized academic training provider. That way, they can receive college credit while they learn and pursue certification. Plus, it looks good on a resume.

If they select the Wave resource kit, they’ll have to lay out additional cash for software. At a minimum, they’ll have to pick up a few Microsoft Press texts in order to obtain evaluation software to complete simulations. But they’ll still be saving thousands compared to classroom instruction. They’ll just have to do without the benefits of the pre-prepared lab environment and a qualified instructor.

Since I feel Wave’s resource kit best targets seasoned IT professionals looking to upgrade their skill sets, it’s likely these customers will already have TechNet Plus subscriptions, which include evaluation CDs.

Certainly, the kit is thorough. If you have even limited real-world IT experience, you should find all the information you need in Wave’s kit to prepare for the Windows 2000 MCSE track.

But it’s not for lightweights. If you’re not committed to certification and motivated to study, the Wave/Thomson Learning Windows 2000 Resource Kit may not be for you. The kit will be most effective for IT professionals who possess some real-world experience and who are seeking a well-organized, self-paced instruction program to help fill in their knowledge gaps.
If you'd like to share your opinion, start a discussion below or send the editor an e-mail.

Editor's Picks

Free Newsletters, In your Inbox